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OU senior gains experience at professional conferences

Fri Dec 11, 2020 at 10:30 AM

Oakland University senior Christina Walker is passionate about African Stabilization efforts. The International Relations and French Language and Literature major has immersed herself in research on the topic, which gave her the ability to attend seven professional conferences as an undergraduate student before the pandemic hit, and she didn’t stop there. Since COVID-19 shut down many in-person events, Walker has presented her research at two more virtual conferences. 

“When everything shifted online back in March, a lot of conferences began shifting online through the end of the year, which has since been extended,” said Walker. “It is nice in some ways, there are less barriers in regard to travel costs and things of that nature and it makes it easier to continue to fulfill your other obligations as a student.”

Walker said there are challenges associated with presenting in virtual conferences however, one of them is connecting with the audience and other attendees. She said it is sometimes difficult to feel like the conferences provide  comprehensive discussion opportunities. 

Gaining Experience Through Research

Walker said her first-ever conference was the Pi Sigma Alpha Undergraduate Research Conference in Washington D.C. She presented her paper, “Not in a Thousand Years: Looking at Rhodesia Through an English School Lens.” From that first conference in 2019 to present, Walker said she has grown through each experience. 

“Conferences have given me the opportunity to explore research avenues, network with other scholars and to hear feedback on my work,” Walker said. Through her presentations, she said she has enhanced her public speaking skills and mastered how to explain her research and identify key concepts in her manuscripts. “Conferences have opened communication networks for me within both the academic and policy worlds, while providing me with key experiences for my future career goals.”

Terri Towner, professor in the Department of Political Science, has worked with Walker through her undergraduate years and said Christina completed her own research and presented it at numerous professional conferences. 

“(Presenting at conferences) is an extremely valuable experience for our undergraduates, as it allows students to develop independent critical thinking skills, along with oral and written communication skills. Beyond developing academic depth in their research area, independent student research enables students to gain skills including problem-solving, planning research budgets, and crafting research proposals,” said Towner. 

Towner added that regardless of whether they are offered in-person or virtual, professional conferences allow students to connect with scholars and peers in their field. Participation can help students build professional identities and potentially boost their interest in graduate school or a related career. 

Presenting in-person versus online

So far this year, Walker has presented at two virtual conferences. One was a traditional PowerPoint presentation and the other was a poster presentation. She said the traditional presentation felt “normal” to her, as all of the participants were on Zoom together. Having Zoom lectures for her classes, the concept didn’t feel so foreign to Walker. 

“However, for the poster presentation, it was interesting because I could virtually chat with people through a chat box and my poster was available for people to view, comment on and contact me for 90 days after the conference. This provides me with a greater opportunity for feedback. However, it can be more difficult to connect and have an in-depth conversation with people via a chat box,” Walker said. 

The International Studies Association virtual conference format was one that Walker appreciated. She said there were virtual coffee and happy hours, which make it easy to network, almost easier than in person. 

“In person, you have to approach a group of people, whereas when you join a video chat, people are more apt to start talking to you. I made a lot of connections through this conference,” said Walker. 

Through her conference experiences, whether in-person or virtually, she also has gained invaluable skills that will go with her beyond Oakland University. 

“I have learned how to best portray my research - both visually and through my dialogue - and learned how to ask questions about other research,” said Walker.